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Defenders of the Norman Crown (Hardback)

Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey

British History P&S History Medieval

By Sharon Bennett Connolly
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 280
Illustrations: 20 colour illustrations - plate section
ISBN: 9781526745293
Published: 2nd June 2021

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In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto - by what warrant he held his lands - John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”

John's ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the highest circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal.

Defenders of the Norman Crown tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I had not previously heard of the Warenne dynasty so was interested in learning about the family.

William de Warenne was created the first Earl of Surrey following the Battle of Hastings in 1066 where he fought alongside William the Conqueror. The family would go on to hold this title until the reign of Edward III. The Warenne family became one of the richest and most powerful families through the rewards from the crown but also through successful marriages into not only prominent families but also into royalty. They gained much land but also donated much to the church.

The dynasty came to an end under the reign of Edward III. This book is the result of meticulous research and I fully enjoyed the excerpts of material.
Sharon Bennett Connolly brings this family to the forefront and discusses their successes, downfalls and scandals. Through this book I've learnt not just about the family but also the politics of the day and the struggles of remaining loyal to the Crown.

It can get a little confusing with names but so do many historical books and I found the chronology helped with this.

Overall, this is a brilliant overview of such a prominent family who were central to the Crown and politics and I would recommend to anyone with an interest.

NetGalley, Amy McElroy

I loved Defenders of the Norman Crown. Sharon Bennett Connolly’s detailed, meticulous research brings together a wealth of sources to give the reader a fascinating view of one of the powerful families on which the Crown depended for centuries. Politics and power, Marriages and mistresses, Lordship and land, Defenders of the Norman Crown has it all. Sharon Bennett Connolly has written a very fine book indeed – I loved it.

Elizabeth Chadwick, best-selling author of historical fiction.

A vivid portrayal of a powerful aristocratic family. Sharon Bennett Connolly follows the fortunes of the Warenne earls of Surrey from supporters of William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings to their eventual demise in the reign of Edward III. Connolly writes with verve and enthusiasm, bringing the Warennes to life in all their guises - warriors, landowners and crusaders - and does not neglect the women of the family. A highly readable and well-illustrated survey.

Michael Jones, author of The Black Prince

Defenders of the Norman Crown is sub-titled ‘Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey’, and covers three centuries, from the founding of the dynasty to the inevitable end. During that time there were seven earls (or eight, with the fourth being the formidable Countess Isobel), and five were named William, so I have to admire how Sharon Bennett Connolly managed to avoid confusion.

Queen Elizabeth II is descended from the Scottish line of the second earl, and I was surprised at how profoundly the Warrenne earls influenced English, Scottish, Welsh and even French history, yet remained in the shadows – until now.

I’m happy to recommend this very readable book, which combines a strong narrative with meticulous research, with many intriguing details which bring the fascinating stories of the Warenne earls to life.

Read the full review here

Tony Riches

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book tells the story of one family (and their relatives!) over a three hundred year period. From the Battle of Hastings through to King John and beyond, the de Warenne Earls of Surrey were highly significant members of the English aristocracy, yet they appear very little in most history books.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has researched this family thoroughly, following their lives over an extended period, and highlighting their importance to the monarchy. Indeed, several members of the family married the daughters of kings, or became the mothers of kings. Their rise was dramatic, fighting alongside William the Conqueror at Hastings and being well rewarded. However, the fall of the titled dynasty was almost as dramatic, with the seventh and final de Warenne Earl of Surrey having a failed marriage to a royal niece and being shunned by many as a result.

The book is well written and very informative, with each successive title holder's history and alliances being examined.

Sharon writes a regular blog on https://historytheinterestingbits.com/, which focuses on medieval Britain, and particularly on the role of significant women of the era. I would certainly recommend this book, and the blog, to anyone with an interest in the era.

NetGalley, Caryl Blake

This is a very interesting read on British Norman history I highly recommend.

NetGalley, Shelly Myers

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rose and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey '', she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warenne's were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

Oh my goodness, Sharon Bennett Connolly has done it again! This was the perfect romp through a medieval family! Honor, scandal, marriages, and intrigue all play into the Warrene family lines.
Beginning with William of Normandy, and going down through the Wars of the Roses, this book will read as an action-packed, give me all the information book!

I loved this one! The Warrene family was very prominent throughout the medieval history of England, and this book will dive into their past, and share everything that you could ever want to know about this ambitious family.

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

Another great read from Pen & Sword. I'm vaguely familiar with this family, so reading a book specifically about their history from inception to the end of it, was very interesting. It's definitely one I'd like to have on my shelf to reference again in the future.

NetGalley, Caidyn Young

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An impressive and long overdue publication about the earls of Surrey, the Warenne (Varenne in Normandy) and their steadfast contributions and deep loyalties to the English Crown from the heyday of the Norman Conquest and the battlefield of Hastings to the glorious reign of Edward III. Ms. Bennett Connolly has given us a solidly researched portrait of a medieval family and its successful longevity during the three long and troublesome centuries that followed the Norman establishment on the throne and the roles played by its successive and prominent members in the shadows of the crown. A colorful tapestry through all the ups and downs of medieval England, its monarchical shenanigans and its military and political restlessness. Highly recommended to anyone interested in English and European medieval history.

NetGalley, jean luc estrella

About Sharon Bennett Connolly

Sharon Bennett Connolly, has been fascinated by history her whole life. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated. Ladies of Magna Carta is her third non-fiction book. Her first book, Heroines of the Medieval World, was published in September 2017 and the second, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, was released in 2018. Sharon gives talks on women's history and her TV work includes Australian television's Who Do You Think You Are?

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